THE military spokesman has reiterated that the fencing of the border with Afghanistan will continue despite the recent incidents where the Afghan Taliban disrupted the work being undertaken by Pakistani troops. On Wednesday, Maj-Gen Babar Iftikhar said that the obstructions to the fencing were “localised issues” and had been addressed by the government as it was in touch with the interim Taliban government in Kabul.

Pakistan has nearly completed the fencing of the 2,600-km-long border that is aimed at stopping unchecked cross-border movement which has fanned both terrorism and smuggling. The previous Ashraf Ghani government had also protested against the fencing because it officially did not recognise the international border. This dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan has festered for decades without any resolution in sight.

It is an opportune time therefore for Pakistan to make renewed efforts to settle the matter with the Taliban government — a matter that must be handled by the foreign ministry that is best placed to understand its sensitive diplomatic nuances.

Read more: NSA Moeed Yusuf to visit Kabul soon amid border tension

Afghanistan maintains that the Durand Line that forms the border between the two countries is an artificial construct because it divides families, tribes and communities. However, Pakistan does not recognise this as a dispute, and neither does any international body like the UN. By fencing the border, Pakistan has violated no international laws or treaties and is within its right to do so for its own security reasons.

That said, it is important that border management is done effectively and with mutual understanding of the two countries. With the Taliban now controlling Afghanistan, it is reasonable to expect that they will not actively and deliberately try to undermine Pakistan’s interests, and would resolve misunderstandings through reasoned engagement. Hence, it was unfortunate that local Taliban commanders displayed a lapse of judgement by creating unnecessary obstructions in the work being done by Pakistan on the fence. It seems that saner counsel has prevailed and the military spokesman’s comments suggest that a mutually acceptable solution will be found.

More needs to be done. This immediate episode may be settled one way or another, and the fence will also be completed shortly, but the unilateral dispute over the status of the border continues to simmer. It would be an encouraging initiative if Pakistan could engage with the Taliban in a bid to settle this issue permanently.

It is clear that any change in the status of the internationally recognised border is unacceptable to Pakistan. However, if some ways and means can be found to address the concerns of Kabul then Pakistan should make that attempt with a positive attitude. Even though Afghanistan’s claims do not have any impact per se, Pakistan gains by somehow addressing the matter with the aim of solving it. It may take patience and diplomatic finesse fuelled by political will, but now is as good a time as any to take this initiative.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2022

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